My Pa ran the general store which his Uncle Wesley started in 1843. Forty years later, Uncle Wes turned it over to Pa and it was a fine business. One side of the store was groceries and the other was drygoods and household furnishing. I spent many hours there as a child when Ma helped out and later stopping on the way home from school.
First inside the door on the grocery side was the candy counter, an arched glass topped case displaying all the wonders of penny candy unknown today. There were taffy pans with their own tiny spoons, bullseyes, licorice whips a yard long, horehound drops, chocolate drops that melted around your tongue, peppermint and wintergreen candies, white and pink, as big as a quarter with a delicious sugary softness inside their hard crust, and sugar candies in every shape imaginable.
In the back stood barrels of flour and sugar, both white and brown, waiting to be weighed up on demand. Some things did come packaged, tho, Arm and Hammer 'sody', salratus, baking powder, Uneda Milk Biscuits, and ZuZu Gingersnaps, Niagara starch, Dixon's stove polish, Chase and Sanborn coffee, spices and tea.
A big chunk stove sat in the middle of the floor towards the back of the store, with chairs around it and usually a checker board set up on a nail keg. They had checker games at the hardware store too, and the two champions "played off" once a year. There was always a group sitting around the stove, old men with nothing to do but 'chaw' or smoke foul pipes and swap yarns, or shopper's husbands waiting for the 'old woman' to spend her egg money.
There were many things on the drygoods side to spend egg money on. Besides bleached and unbleached muslin for sheets, serge and rough stuffs for men's clothing, there were fine muslins, dimitys and percales, fine wool challis, foulard, black silk or satin for mourning as well as "Sunday Best" dresses. There were bonnet frames, and trimmings - ribbons, veiling by the bolt, flowers, and feathers too. I still have Ma's mourning bonnet made of layers of black netting with a heavy black veil that reached to her waist. It is a copy of the one Mary Lincoln wore.
Boots hung from wires overhead or, in the case of ladies more delicate shoes, stood on shelves. Children's boots sometimes had copper toes to prevent wear and little girls could get red cloth tops if their fathers were as indulgent as was mine.
Pa carried J.P.Coats thread in a special case provided by the company, knitting needles and yarn, sewing needles, pins, and buttons. Buttons were much more artistic then, big jet or cut-steel dolman buttons, picture buttons, tiny pearl and polished bone buttons, shoe buttons, and wooden ones to cover with the stuff of your dress. People collect them now-a-days.
On the highest shelves stood wash sets, a large bowl, pitcher, tooth mug, chamber, and slop jar. Some were plain, other's gaily decorated with flowers. Pa had other crockery too, dishes by the set and piece, cooking pots, kettles, skillets of iron. And there were bone handled knives, forks and spoons in a drawer with caring knives and the whetstone to sharpen them.
But telling about what was in the store doesn't reveal the rich atmosphere of the place on a late, dark, winter afternoon as I came in out of the cold snowy air. In to the smell of burning wood, steaming leather and rubber boots propped near it. The sharp tang of cheese, spicy aroma of the pickle barrel, and all the other occupants of shelf, counter, and open barrels mingled into one magic perfume.
Pa's smile and hug would greet me and soon I'd be munching cheese and crackers or dried beef in lacy, salty slices as I listened to the talk about the roaring stove. Then, after a dipper of the icy water from the pail by the back door, perhaps there'd be a new shipment to help open.
Oil lamps hung from the ceiling and could be pulled down to clean, fill and light to shed golden rays on 'Sattidy" evening shoppers. After you shopped, you went home to take your weekly bath, whether you needed it or not, and most people did.
In those days buying a pound of tea was a social experience as well as a commercial one, for you always took home the latest local 'news' along with your purchase.
Pa at one time, also had a wagon and drove around the countryside delivering to outlying farms. Some of his pay was in eggs, butter, or fresh produce, but some was in hard money. Mostly he delivered specific orders the women had given him the week before but he always carried extras to tempt them. There were jars of bright hard candies, spices, tea and coffee as well as thread, needles, pins, bits of lace and ribbon, shears, anything a farm wife far from town might need.
Actually the grocery wagon was a small store with shelves, bins and a scales. Pa's scales were often pressed into use to weigh a baby. How I loved being allowed to hold the warm, often moist bundle after that ceremony while the mother completed her shopping.